Three-time Olympian, four Olympic medals – and now she’s the key co-star in Touch the Wall, the movie documenting Missy’s – and Kara Lynn (Joyce) Williamson’s – Olympic path. Former Georgia standout Kara Lynn catches us up on all things movie, career and swimming related in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. So you have a new job in addition to doing clinics as director of curriculum for the Fitter & Faster Swim Tour out of agent David Arluck’s company – how’d that happen?
Kara Lynn: I think David and I have always had an open dialogue as far as things that the Fitter & Faster Swim Tour is doing really well and areas where we can make the experience even better for attendees. Taking on this job is a logical next step in my involvement with the FFT and I look forward to helping them continue to bring the best possible experience and learning environment to each club and swimmer.
2. Obviously a lot of well-deserved attention has focused on Touch the Wall – how exciting was that premiere and experience of seeing it on the big screen?
Well, the premiere…now that I know some screening and movie lingo – we had our premiere in Denver here last month, and it was (laughs) insane! We had it in a theater that looks like an opera house here. My family flew in and Missy’s family was here. I guess I just didn’t have a concept of what 2,000 plus people were like in a space like this! We finished getting our hair done, and they said, “You can’t go by the door, there is this massive crowd of people.” And I was like, “Oh, what are they here for?” I had no idea we’d get such a great crowd. Once we got out there, I was like, “Wow!” Sold out, something like 2,400 fans. It was really nice.
3. You are so proud of the filmmakers, how excited were they?
Kara Lynn: Actually, I called the premieres “The Olympic moment for our filmmakers” – Christo Brock and Grant Barbeito. They had witnessed our Olympic journeys and then our time in London. Seeing it come to life was an Olympic moment for them. It was what they worked so hard for, and to see it so well received meant so much. Very special.
4. When you saw it first what was your reaction?
Kara Lynn: The first time I saw it two weeks before our Denver premiere with, DA (Missy’s Mom), Missy and Teri McKeeever, and the two film makers out in Berkeley. I was so anxious and nervous. You have a good idea of what the last four years looked like, but obviously I wasn’t able to fully enjoy and appreciate it until I saw the movie. So my reaction was processing it all – Missy was very emotional and also loved it. The first time seeing it, I wasn’t able to just sit back and enjoy it, and then after the premieres following the first one, I really did enjoy it. Plus, seeing how the audience reacted was really neat for me. What a project they put together, and what an amazing person they had to feature in Missy Franklin – I am so proud of that young woman.
5. So this was like a 5-star deal in terms of exceeding your goals
for the movie?
Kara Lynn: Yes, the finished product completely blew away my expectations. The way I met these guys was this: We were swimming in the month of May. I had just moved to Colorado, and we were swimming outside. I think Missy was still 15, and I saw all these people here, and I was like, “Hey Missy, who is here today?” thinking it was just more media, because we had a lot of it to watch Missy. Missy said, “Oh, these are two guys who are making a documentary about me.” I said, “That’s awesome, congratulations.” We were going head to head and working really hard. This guy came up to me and said, “Hey, who are you?” I said, “I’m the new kid, Kara Lynn Joyce.” They had already talked to Todd about me. “Can we come over to your house and talk to you because we’re making a film about Missy? We’d like you to be a part of it.” I had no real idea what it was, but I said, “Sure, whatever, sounds good.” We talked for two hours, and I was fortunate to be included.
6. What did you think about it at that point?
Kara Lynn: I thought since it was a film about swimming, no one would (laughs) ever watch it. I didn’t even know how to explain it to people when I’d try to tell them about it. Missy had this great personality and story, but I didn’t know if it would really turn into something big. But we became good friends with the filmmakers, and they were not intrusive at all. They had small cameras, and it never felt like they were being invasive when Missy and were talking. They respected our privacy.
7. Then you suddenly left Colorado and ended up in Charlotte – did
you think that was where your work in the film was done, or wonder if you’d
still be featured?
Kara Lynn: When I moved to Charlotte I thought, “That’s where I part ways with the film.” But then they actually came out to Charlotte for a week, which surprised me. Again, though, I still didn’t think anything of it and I didn’t think anything would come of it.
8. Two years later, does it sink in what you went through to make
Kara Lynn: I don’t know…it’s weird watching it, being a couple of years removed, just seeing how everything went down from a completely different perspective. Truly the drama I felt in my life – and you were there because we talked several times during that period – was very real, and it was a key developmental part of my life, something that set me up for the rest of my life, so to speak. A small percentage of that is covered in the film, but as far as I am concerned, that’s (laughs) more than enough! But it’s also really cool. And I am glad that I never stopped believing in myself, and that I had some amazing people who believed in me – especially the ones who kept believing in me when the going got tough.
9. I know you thought the move to Denver was a speed bump, but
in a way, it was the best part of the fork in the road, because you met Casey,
this incredible man who would become your husband – that never happens had you
not moved to Denver, no matter how briefly, right?
Kara Lynn: I had never looked at it that way until the wedding got close, and we actually made that part of our wedding vows. What I ended up finding in Denver was not what I came to Denver for, yet I got so much more out of it; my husband, getting to meet Missy and her family – another great blessing in my life, to know Missy’s family so well because they have been so wonderful to me – and a movie!
10. And you also were able to lean on Casey and not get too
discouraged when you moved to North Carolina – how much did his support mean in
that final run-up?
Kara Lynn: Along with Coach Marsh and everyone at SwimMAC, Casey’s support meant everything. I see that, especially looking back, more and more every day. Until after the Olympics, I wasn’t able to comprehend how much love this man has for me, how he can be so unconditionally supportive. He’s just an incredible guy. I didn’t think I was ever going to find someone who could understand me and love me like this.
11. So you looked like a million bucks for the movie premiere in New
York – Everyone is wondering where you found a dress like that?
Kara Lynn: I found that dress in a picture online and I knew my husband would love it but I didn’t know if it was the right dress for the event, so I asked Missy’s Mom. The first thing that amazing woman said was, “Oh, Casey is going to love that!” And I laughed and said, “But what do you think? Is it okay?” She said, “Yes! It’ll be great.” It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime dresses that I think just fit the occasion and I was very fortunate.
12. So you go to the 2004 and 2008 Games, come home with Olympic
medals, and then against all odds – and logistics! – make the 2012 team. How
did this career turn out because I know the last time we talked the fact you
didn’t medal in London had you a bit down?
Kara Lynn: I have definitely come to terms and found a peace inside with how I finished my career. I did my best in London, and I did my best to make that team with all that incredible talent. So no matter what, I guess unless you win eight medals like Michael, you don’t think about coming back – though he’s come back since then, so you could make the case we always want more! I had given absolutely everything I had, and been dedicated to the bone, so I can hang my hat on it, call it a career, and say I did everything I set out to do. And that feels great. As more time goes by, I appreciate it even more. Even now, taking a step back and being fresh into retirement, I am so glad I saw 2012 through, and look at how those memories will last me – the rest of a lifetime.
13. How is it possible we have been talking for more than a decade
Kara Lynn: I don’t know, but I can say I remember the first time you did a feature on me, I was on the phone in my dorm room! And it means a lot that so many people have seen the growth in me. I didn’t always see the clear path, or take the right road each time, but it took me somewhere every time that I could make myself better, and where I could learn about myself and grow as a person, and at Georgia that started with Jack Bauerle, who was an important father figure to so many of us, as much as he was a great coach. Sometimes you trust you made the right decision, but even when you don’t, you still have to have that trust in yourself to see it through, do the right thing, and learn all you can from it.
14. What about the fact that you bookend your career swimming for
the legendary David Marsh, the man whose nemesis you had represented winning
all those titles when you were at Georgia, and who himself had been Georgia’s
nemesis all those years as Auburn became a powerhouse?
Kara Lynn: Wow. Talk about burying the hatchet or closing a chapter in life in a meaningful way…to be able to get to know that incredible man and what makes him so great – not just as a coach, but as this kind-hearted man with a heart of pure gold. I never got to know him when I was at Georgia even though I had seen him so many times. But he is just such a wonderful man, and even more intelligent than anyone could ever fathom – the way he sees things with such a keen and wide perspective. When I asked to come to SwimMAC, he did not have to say yes. I was sitting in my room here in Denver, I had just gotten off the phone with Jack Roach, and I realized David could say no and I might not be able to go there. Most people, in fact, would have understandably said no 10 weeks out from the Olympics. But he gave me a chance, and when someone like that believes in you, you’re going to give every ounce, every second, to show how grateful you are.
15. To make the team at Olympic Trials you mentioned earlier – how
much did that mean this time, given all that had transpired?
Kara Lynn: It was pretty magical. A couple of notes on that. After Olympic Trials, you know you get off the deck and go down in the press area and the first people you see are all the media. The first person I saw was Grant, one of the filmmakers – he was sobbing, he was crying way harder than me! “We just got a fairytale,” he said. I think everyone had faith Missy would blow it out of the water. But I think that a big piece of the puzzle was…me. And these two men for who I have such great affection and care, Grant and Christo, had met me before I met Casey.
16. The list of people, those guys and coach Marsh, what a crew to
join at the end of your run?
Kara Lynn: And DA Frankin, this phenomenal human being I am so blessed to have in my life now – all these people shaped me…who gets that at the tail-end of their career? Who gets that wisdom, kindness and compassion, and those opportunities that late in one’s career? DA kept (laughs), saying, “The movie needs to end with a proposal, tell Casey…” (Laughs). But with how long the whole process took, we ended up married before it came out so it made the credits, which seems wonderfully appropriate.
17. Short course Worlds just finished, do you have memories of that?
Kara Lynn: I was at the last one, in Dubai – it’s really funny watching this meet in December, some four years later, because I know what the swimmers were going through. It’s an awesome meet. It’s almost like NCAAs, because it’s short course racing in great fields. I think that kind of racing adds some excitement. People like Clary and Lochte, who can just demolish walls, really get another chance to shine. I think it’s also a good meet at this point in the season because it’s a good break from training but a great chance to race. There’s something to be said for the feel of the water at a championship meet, and to have it in December and not August – that keeps you on your toes. You have to be ready to race even though in a normal cycle you would not be competing at this time. So it’s good in a lot of ways, along with (the recently concluded) AT&T Winter Nationals.
18. How were you able to be on three Olympic teams in a row?
Kara Lynn: Well, I was an add-on to one team! But obviously you cannot (laughs) count on that. What worked for me was compartmentalizing my goals each year. I was able to focus on a World Championships or Pan Pacs, and use the lessons from that entire experience so that I was at my best at Olympics and Olympic Trials. Those others are really great meets with the best competition, but it really does teach you great lessons for your Olympic progress and process.
19. You went up and down in distances and won so many 50 and 100
freestyle titles at Georgia, yet you didn’t shy from competing in the 200 – how
did that help you?
Kara Lynn: I think it helps keep you excited, and it gives you options. Look at someone like Jessica Hardy and how she does it with the breaststroke and freestyles, or Missy with her different events. Or Katie doing distance but also the 200 – and she could do the 100 if it fits into her program. When you are in a longer race, it helps you a lot with the timing, starts and finishes of the shorter races. Each event teaches you a lot about the others. Having those other events to compete in just always breathed new life into me.
20. Four Olympic medals over three Games, five gold, eight silver,
and one bronze overall for international medals, all those NCAA Championships
and individual titles – does it start to sink in at this point?
Kara Lynn: I have never counted my medals, but I do keep track of my friends, and I am forever grateful for the friends I have made in this sport. So I don’t know where the medals are, and though I have the Olympic medals with me for “work,” I don’t know that I will ever gather all the other ones – I think they are packed up at my parents’ house – and dust them off; that’s not the big takeaway. It’s the people you meet. It’s like what Fran Crippen said, his great quote was about how the sport to him was the people he met along the way – and I can attest to that 100 percent. My teammates, coaches, family – even my opponents – shaped me into the person I am today. And those are the memories I will carry forward, because that’s what I will think about and be grateful for the rest of my life.